From small businesses to large corporations, updating your company brand is a big project. Whether you've actively controlled your brand message or it has developed organically – virtually or through consistent consumer interpretation – predicting how your update will perform and impact sales can be more mysticism than science. Even companies with the deepest pockets have learned this the hard way. Remember "New Coke"?
So why do we do it? The cynics would assume it's simply to make more money. In reality brand owners who love their products are always looking for ways to delight their customers and entice new buyers so they can share the love. Our customers truly believe in their products and want other people to feel the same joy they do when using them – similar to telling a friend about a new restaurant you've discovered that you know they'll love. Our favorite brands become a part of our lives and our connections to others.
The motives behind a desire to update your brand can also be simpler. Fear that your products aren't shining through on the shelf, that the products you've worked so hard to create aren't looking the part. Packaging can appear dated in a relatively short time, and before you know it the labels you loved, that you worked so hard on, no longer represent the quality of the products you produce.
It's a Jungle Out There
The retail shelf space is constantly in flux. Competitors are evolving or changing completely, packaging and labeling trends frequently pop up or fade away, and of course environmental sustainability and market regulations are a factor in your packaging decisions. It takes effort to stay on top of everything that can potentially erode your market share, and it is not unusual for a brand refresh or update to take a year to complete. In that time many of the factors that influenced your decisions may have undergone more changes.
With all of that in mind, it is easy to see why a company completely overhauling a brand is so rare. Starting from scratch throws every aspect of your brand into question, essentially a role of the dice. The exceptions would be generic brands or newer brands with no equity whatsoever, or companies reinventing themselves to reemerge from a scandal. For everyone else, the name of the game is keeping the brand fresh. This is commonly an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary process.
Is 2018 the Year You Revitalize Your Labels?
Regardless of your motivation for revisiting your brand packaging, there are a lot of considerations when planning a refresh:
- Your brand's history and heritage
- The effectiveness of your current brand message
- Your existing customers needs and desires
- How your labels compare to your competitors'
- The current retail environment your products are sold in
- The main objective of a refresh
Hopefully you built a good foundation when you launched your brand. If you have lived with a strategic brand message for any amount of time, you should have some data to draw from to determine what has worked and what needs to be updated. The core message of your brand, the intended emotional appeal of your design and messaging, the uniqueness and eye-catching aspects of your packaging, and overall effectiveness of your labels in communicating all of this in mere seconds to busy and distracted shoppers.
1. Brand History and Heritage
Before you can determine where your brand can go, you should understand where it has been. Have past label designs been "evolutionary" or "revolutionary"– which elements are cornerstones to your brand message?
If your brand is evolving, consider how you can "future proof" the messaging to speak to the core elements that will remain constant over time.
2. Effectiveness of Current Brand Message
What is the central message of your brand? Try to answer that question for both your business and your consumers. What do you think the brand is, and what do your customers think it is? On the other hand, can you easily articulate what your brand is not? Can your customers? If your perception lines up with theirs, your message has been effective.
3. Existing Customers Needs and Desires
Do you have an understanding of how the people who buy your products perceive them, how they integrate your products into their lives, and what (if any) emotional connection they have with your product? Alienating your current customers with a radical redesign that upends this relationship could be disastrous.
With the continued erosion of brand loyalty that pervades every market, a balancing act is required with packaging updates. You want to remain familiar to your current customers and create a buzz that attracts new ones.
4. Competitive Analysis
Walk the isles and see how your labels compare. Are they unique and eye-catching? Do they stand out and clearly communicate your brand message and the advantages of buying your products? This is an easy exercise with products sold at retail, but you can create a virtual comparison if your products are sold online only. Open several windows with your products and your competitors side by side. Make an honest appraisal of your packaging and messaging, even if you are certain your products are infinitely superior to the competition – is it going to obvious to online shoppers unfamiliar with your brand?
5. Retail Environment
Where will your products be displayed, and how will they be displayed? Retail environments can and do change frequently as store owners look for ways to improve sales and manipulate the flow of traffic through their stores.
Will your products be lost in a massive shelf area filled with dozens of competitive products, locked behind glass, on the top shelf or the bottom shelf? Will they be stocked behind a counter, or featured on an end cap? What is the lighting like– will brilliant fluorescents completely obscure subtle design elements like embossing, or glare off foil label elements, making them unreadable?
When you walk the aisles yourself for your competitive analysis, keep an eye out for what works and what doesn't in the retail environment where you products live. You can see how label effects and treatments work on unrelated products too, to try to get an idea how your design vision will be realized.
6. Main Objective of a Refresh / Redesign
There are always going to be risks when revitalizing your brand and packaging, so it follows that minimizing those risks is just good business. Resist the urge to run labels that appeal to you just because they look cool or pretty – dig a little deeper and consider how they’ll perform in the marketplace and stack up against your competition and impact customer perception.
Only half of all packaging redesigns actually increase sales, so use caution when updating. As mentioned above, label redesigns should be evolutionary, not one-offs, building on the marketplace impressions you’ve already made, supporting your brand message and building positive perception in the minds of your consumers - ideally through an emotional appeal.
If you can begin to understand the marketplace, and design labels with deliberate goals and sales results in mind, you’ll have greater control over your brand and the future of your company’s success. Always look to the future and consider the flexibility of your designs for new product launches or line extensions.
When Is a Brand Refresh a Bad Idea?
If you cannot confidently address the six points in the previous section, you are taking a big risk tinkering with your brand packaging. Unless your labels are horribly designed, poorly printed, and appear cheap next to your competitor's offerings, chances are you are taking a risk by leaping before you look.
The only way to know when it is the right time for a refresh is to do some research. Updating your packaging is something that should not be taken lightly.
Communicating your brand message requires some simple, deliberate layout techniques, and label orders require careful planning. A brand refresh should follow the same core principals, so it is absolutely critical to arm your self with as much information as possible and plan way ahead.